Reigning league champions Melrose ended Gala’s hopes of being the first team to have their name inscribed on the Bill McLaren Shield today at Netherdale in front of an engrossed 2,000 strong Border crowd.
The visitors beat the hosts 17-16 in a tight encounter that was resolved at the death courtesy of a cracking 80-metre try from Melrose wing Allan Dodds and a nerveless conversion from Andrew Skeen.
Gala looked to have put themselves in the box seat when the ever-durable Opeta Palepoi rumbled over for their first try but that only served to inspire ‘Rose.
Melrose head coach, Craig Chalmers, said: “It was a very tough game but I’m delighted with the win and the performance the boys put in, especially in the closing minutes.
“Gala got up in our faces but when we got ball in hand and put pace on it we really caused some problems.
“I have never lost at Netherdale as a coach, but I thought at one point that today was going to be my first time.
“In terms of the crowd it was brilliant to have so many people down supporting both teams, it took me back to the early nineties. It’s really promising for Borders rugby. I mean I’m really pleased Gala are doing well in the league as long as they don’t finish above us!” he beamed.
The first half of the match saw only three points on the scoreboard with the hosts ahead at the break.
However, both teams lifted their game early on in the second period showing threat in attack and strength in defence, but it was tries from stand-off Scott Wight and winger Dodds that edged the visitors past Gala’s single touchdown from Palepoi.
Melrose will now take the Bill McLaren Shield to The Greenyards where they will have the duty of defending it in their next home match in the RBS Premier Cup.
Run of play:
On six minutes, Gala opened the scoring at Netherdale with a simple strike at the posts from the boot of stand-off, Lee Millar. 3-0
Five minutes later Melrose stand-off Scott Wight had the opportunity to realign the scoreboard but his effort floated wide.
Melrose showed the first real try threat of the game on 20 minutes when full-back, Fraser Thomson burst down the terraced wing and chipped behind the Gala defence for scrum-half Scott McCormick to chase. However, the attack was snuffed out with Gala winning the chase.
Gala quickly worked their way back to the Melrose try line after a well worked move between their number 8 Euan Dods and 15 Gregor Hunter. Hunter came within two metres before being knocked into touch by the covering defender.
The hosts kept up the threat for a good five minutes knocking at the door of the Melrose defence who refused to relent. The play was then disrupted with Melrose flanker, Ross Miller being sent to the bin for persistent infringement on 33 minutes.
With two minutes left in the half Gala were given an opportunity to double their lead from the middle of the park, but Millar’s attempt descended slightly too soon.
Half-time: Gala 3-0 Melrose
Melrose came out sharp and fast in the second touching down within a matter of minutes. Scott Wight, on a terrific loop on substitute James King, was the scorer who also added the extras. 3-7
On 47 minutes Millar brought the score back within a point. However, Wight quickly reclaimed the four point deficit with a successful penalty. 6-10
Millar added a third successful penalty to his tally on 58 minutes from 43metres. 9-10
Moments later Gala captain Palepoi slipped through the Melrose defence – once again reduced to 14 men when McCormick was sin-binned for slowing up quick ball at a ruck – and tumbling over the whitewash under a pile of maroon bodies after a well worked move off the line out. Millar added the conversion. 16-10
After a period of pressure, around 77 minutes, from the visitors in Gala’s 22 the patient maroon defence was let off forcing a knock on inches from the try line.
With two minutes to go Melrose completely shifted the Netherdale dynamic as Dodds flew up the wing from his own 22 in front of the Gala fans in grandstand. He proceeded to evade Palepoi’s despairing tackle and score the try. Andrew Skeen’s first attempt at the post was successful assuring the win for the visitors. 16-17
Full-time: Gala 16-17 Melrose
Gala team: Gregor Hunter; Shaun Law, Chris Auld, Alan Emond, Gavin Young; Lee Millar, George Graham; Ewin McQuillin, Russell Anderson, Jack Gilding, Chris Weir, Opeta Palepoi, Garry Graham, Gary Lowrie, Euan Dods.
Replacements: Lewis Betram, Craig Keddie, Craig Borthwick, Andy McLean, David Marshall.
Melrose team: Fraser Thomson; Alan Dodds, Jamie Murray, Cammy Murray, Simon Webster; Scott Wight, Scott McCormick; Chris Keen, Alun Walker, Nick Beavon, Gary Elder, Peter Eccles, Ross Miller, Graham Dodds, Grant Runciman.
Replacements: Richard Ferguson, James King, Stuart Johnston, Andrew Skeen, Bruce Colvine.